I know you didn't expect to be getting any more emails about my birding adventures now that my Big Year competition is over, but I'm still out there birding and I miss sharing my adventures with all of you. So this year instead of trying to see as many different species of birds that I can I strive to see some of the rare/elusive birds I haven't yet seen to add to my life list.
I had read an article in a magazine about the great winter birding opportunity on Cape Ann, Massachusetts. The article mentioned specific areas to stop and look for seabirds that spend the winter along the coast. Some of the birds I was very interested in getting a chance to see were the King Eider, the Razorbill & the Harlequin Duck, all life listers for me. So on Saturday Chris, Beth & I headed to Cape Ann for a day of winter birding.
Our first stop was at the Fisherman's Memorial in Gloucester Harbor. There were lots of Gulls, a few Black Ducks & a pair of diving birds that neither of us could identify. No King Eider, Razorbill or Harlequin Duck. But it sure was COLD, even though we had on multiple layers and thought we were dressed for the cold it was finger & toe-numbing cold. The sun was nice and bright but the temperature was barely 30 and there was a sea breeze.
We got back into the car and continued to follow the route for winter birding that the article suggested for best results. Our next stop was at the Elks Club along the ocean. The article suggests parking in their lot and across the street overlooking the ocean is a viewing spot to look for birds. We were excited when we first arrived to see that there were a few birders set up with spotting scopes scanning the ocean. We were hopeful that meant they had spotted the King Eider that the article said could be found here.
We hurried over and asked the other birders if anyone had seen the King Eider, only to be told that yes they had but at 8:30 that morning and not since. We were disappointed but enjoyed talking with the other birders and there were plenty of birds to see there. We enjoyed watching a large flock of Buffleheads as they in unison would dive and then all pop back up out of the water. We saw some Common Goldeneyes, Red-Breasted Mergansers, Common Eiders, Black Ducks and a couple of Grebes. But no King Eider, Razorbills or Harlequin Ducks. We stayed as long as the cold would allow us then headed back to the car to continue our quest.
The next stop the article suggested was Eastern Point. The article mentions a wildlife preserve and an ocean breakwater where we can park and search for the King Eider, Razorbill & Harlequin Ducks. Thank goodness we had a GPS because we traveled through narrow zig-zagging streets along the old seaport and out onto a private peninsular with grand old seaport homes. When we arrive at the lighthouse we are a bit disappointed to find the “wildlife preserve” is a gravel parking lot on the beach with salt marsh around us. We scan the ocean for birds but see only the usual species. We eat lunch in the warmth of the car then head out to the Dog Bar Breakwater, where the article suggests to look for King Eiders, Razorbills & Harlequin Ducks. We make our way across the rocky beach and climb over boulders to make it out onto the rocky jetty. Umm, I guess the King Eider, Razorbill & Harlequin Duck didn't read the article because there were none of them there, just the usual species. But darn it was COLD! Whitecaps licked at the rocky jetty and the cold wind cut right through to the core.
We make our way back to the car defeated. We joke about if the birds had read the article and knew they were supposed to be here. There is one more spot to try. The article suggests traveling to some rocky ledges over the ocean called Rockport Headlands. To quote the article, “perhaps the spot on the entire East Coast for close views of Harlequin Ducks”. Now the last couple of times I've been birding with Beth she has been my good luck charm, each time I would mention to her a particular bird that I hoped to see, wham sure enough that would be the next bird we would see. But this time it wasn't working so well, I was joking with her that maybe I had to rub her like a genie's bottle and ask for my wish to see a Harlequin Duck be granted.
We turn a tight corner and find ourselves high above the ocean and we can see a group of birds on the water. We spot a small pull off but the sign says “parking by permit only”, there are 6 or 8 cars already there. I want to check out the birds we saw on the water and figure what the heck if I can't park here they can ask me to leave and I pull in. We notice everyone is in wetsuits, strange indeed. I figure no one will notice me as I set up my scope on the edge of the cliff. Chris has had it with the cold and decides to stay in the car, she tells Beth & I to come back and get her if we spot anything good.
Yup, you guessed it I break into my “birders happy dance”! We don't even get the spotting scope set up before we both see on the water below us 5 Harlequin Ducks!! Magnificent ducks, diving and jumping in and out of the surf. Those of you with bird apps check this species out. My birding good luck charm came through again!
We enjoy watching the ducks we had spent the day searching for and as we head back to the car I stop and speak to one of the men in a wetsuit. He explains that they are all here for testing to earn their diving certification. He tells me the cove has a large reef and strong currents and is an interesting place to dive. Then it makes sense why this is such a special place to find the Harlequin Duck. These ducks live in the high Arctic and spend their lives on rough fast moving rivers. In the winter they migrate to rocky New England coasts where they can find mussels and crustaceans among the rocks and underwater reefs.
We never did get to see a King Eider or the Razorbill but I bagged a new bird for my life list! So this is Jane's Birding Adventures part two. If anyone reads an article or hears about an interesting or rare bird sighting let me know. I'm on the hunt to track down new, rare or elusive birds to add to my life list.
Still Birding, Jane